Every Thursday, Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn leads a group of fellow bloggers on “Tough Travels”, a trip through the tropes that populate the fantasy and sci-fi world, using Diane Wynne Jones’ hilarious The Tough Guide to Fantasyland as a guide.
This week’s subject is “The Good Thief”:
This is probably the theme closest to my heart. Ever since I started playing Dungeons and Dragons nearly 40 years ago I’ve always played rogues. When I was neck deep in World of Warcraft, I played a rogue. People would ask me why I didn’t play anything else — my answer was simply, “I like rogues.” I’m currently obsessing over Assassin’s Creed, because I like rogues. Running, jumping, sneaking, stabbing, way to clever for their own good. They’ll always be my favorites. And here are a few that fueled that love over the years:
Even if I didn’t make a point of including an Eddings item every week, Silk would make the list. Actually any Drasnian from the series could qualify, but Silk is the star. I’ll be honest, he’s probably my favorite character in fantasy. He’s why I love these hackneyed, trope-filled books so much. An expert lockpick, pickpocket, spy, financial genius, assassin, guide and smartass, but he’s also indisputably one of the good guys. When it comes right down to it, Silk is the archetype for every rogue I’ve played in every game. be it tabletop RPG or MMO.
Bilbo Baggins didn’t look much like a thief. Didn’t act much like one either. In fact, he never even considered becoming a thief. But Gandalf saw a desire for adventure in the uptight hobbit and paired him with Thorin’s company of dwarves, heading to Lonely Mountain to reclaim their homeland from the dragon Smaug. But Bilbo proved remarkably good at thievery, stealing the dwarves from the Troll’s cookpot and, of course, the One Ring from Gollum. And that was before he even infiltrated Smaug’s cavernous horde in the Lonely Mountain.
In truth, the Gray Mouser’s friend and companion Fafhrd is quite the rogue as well, but at seven-foot tall, he’s not really what we’re looking for — Fafhrd’s a barbarian thief cut from the Conan mold. But the Gray Mouser is your classic archetype — a lithe acrobat and swordsman who can spin a little magic if necessary. The pair get into dust-ups throughout the world of Nehwon, especially in their home city of Lankhmar. Despite being over 50 years old, these rollicking adventures are must-reads for lovers of fantasy.
Sure, she’s the most powerful “mistborn” allomancer in Scandrial. But Vin got her start as an orphan street rat, surviving by thieving and her uncanny luck (due in no small part to her allomantic powers). She is also quite the spy and warrior, infiltrating the high society of Luthadel to learn their secrets to bring down society with Kelsier and his crew of allomantic revolutionaries and eventually leading the revolution to defeat the Lord Ruler.
Another over powered mage who got his start on the streets. Blackland is the son of a powerful osteomancer who was eaten by the Heirarch of Los Angeles. Orphaned when his mother fled to the kingdom of Northern California, he was raised by the two-bit gangster Otis, performing a variety of criminal jobs with his fellow orphans Cassandra and Moth. In the finale to the trilogy, they infiltrate the court of Northern California in San Francisco to steal a bone from the crown jewels in order to free his adoptive son’s soul from a reanimated dragon.
Locke Lamora may be the star of Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards sequence, but when you get right down to it, he’s kind of an asshole. I mean, chopping off people’s hands, cutting out their tongues, that’s not very “good”. But Jean is like a rock, literally. He’s a heavy with a heart of gold, loyal to a fault and always looking to protect the weaker Locke in a fight. As Locke is prone to say, “I don’t have to beat you…. I just have to keep you here… until Jean shows up.” Which in itself is kind of a dick move as well.
Grace of Kings is one of my favorite books of the year, in no small part to wily Kuni Garu. A small-time hustler and con-man, he is thrust into a leadership role when he joins the powerful warrior Mata Zyndu in rebelling against the despotic emperor in this mythic retelling of the rise of the Han Dynasty, infused with elements of Western epic poetry. Garu becomes crafty Odysseus as he leads the rebellion, winning throne but losing his friend in the process.
I admit it, I don’t know this one. But my wife has decreed that this character from Raymond E. Feist’s “Riftwar Saga” is the perfect example of a good thief. A street urchin growing up in the streets of Krondor, Jimmy is actually the orphaned son of the Upright Man, the leader of Krondor’s Thieve’s Guild. During the Riftwar he helps the Prince and Princess escape becoming their companion, friend and eventually protector throughout the lengthy series.
He’s a scruffy-headed nerf-herder and he DID shoot first, but let’s face it. At any time in any of the books Han could have packed his things, grabbed his money and taken off to pay his debts to Jabba. It would have saved him a lot of trouble with carbonite. But he didn’t the smuggler who could make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs stuck around and became an invaliable leader of the rebellion. And if you’ve read Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath you know he’s still putting his life on the line for his closest friends.
Come back next week when we discover that “Fairytales Are Not Just Stories.”